Reading the Body, Finding the Soul
by Nancy Privett, MA, EFTCert-I, BBSH
A version of this article originally appeared in the October-November 1996 issue of New Consciousness Newsletter.
To work with Things in the indescribable
relationship is not too hard for us;
the pattern grows more intricate and subtle,
and being swept along is not enough.
----Rainer Maria Rilke
The Consciousness of Body Symbology
The idea of a body symbology that allows us to read the body in order to find our perfect path of consciousness may not be appealing We may be more comfortable with seeing disease as a random event which allows us to bemoan our victim plight or to underline what we believed was negative about life to begin with. To be a participator with the disease process, in order to increase our self-awareness and care for our souls, is a challenge because it can’t help but knock us out of our comfortable routines. To become aware of the possibility that disease is not merely something that has happened to us, but may have a deeper meaning on a soul level, may be something we rebel mightily against. We rebel because if it is true that our disease is an open door to what is unknown about ourselves, it demands that we take an active role in the exploratory process that the disease offers us. And if we do that, things are sure to change.
This contradicts what we have previously been taught by our tribe of western medical professionals. We will no longer be able to hand our bodies and our fate over to a doctor and passively accept the verdict of an authority outside of ourselves. If we embrace the idea of a body symbology which can lead to new consciousness we also begin to see every advertisement for pharmaceuticals which offers the message “Take a pill for your pain and stop there” as an affront to our creative power and the dignity we deserve.
Are we ready for such a change in our interpretation of disease and healing? In many cases it would seem we are because, after utilizing traditional western medicine, after being pushed and pulled by health care insurance, after using medications that don’t really do the job, or have side effects that decrease our energy in one way or another, we simply don’t feel that we are “well.” The result is disappointing; the result limits us; the resolution we hoped for is not present. But sometimes it takes being pushed in a corner for us to finally begin to look for another way to go. Evolution would never occur if everything worked perfectly fine. A crisis can always spur us to greater heights. And in this case the “heights” we are speaking of, are the exquisite vistas of our souls.
The Four Levels of Interpreting the Body
Reading the body is not a one-step process. The beginning levels of uncovering symbology are intellectual processes which help us to understand what is happening, but usually don’t manifest as a physical clearing. Subsequent steps take us deeper into self-awareness and need to be done in some sort of non-linear state.
International healer, teacher and author Rosalyn Bruyere sets forth four levels through which we must move in order to transform disease to healing. What is so interesting is that these four levels are the same as those set forth by Rabbi David Cooper for interpreting sacred texts. Simply by noticing this fact, we can begin to realize that our bodies are meant to be read for guidance and direction in our lives. Bruyere’s/Cooper’s four levels of interpretation are:
The Literal Level
The literal level of disease interpretation needs to be done with the help of a good anatomy/pathology book which will give information about the part of the body manifesting disease, as well as a definition of the disease process from the western medical point of view. Here we find out the healthy function of the tissue/organ/system involved and get a clear picture of what the disease process does to that healthy function. We need to be educated in this way, familiar with our bodies and what is happening to them, and we can be aided in our healing process by medical and health professionals.
The Symbolic Level
The symbolic/metaphorical level of interpretation is rich and fascinating. Here we are still using our intellects to understand our disease, but we make leaps of the mind to draw analogies between the disease and our lives. On this level we find out what the disease means to us -- what Thorwald Dethlefsen, author of The Healing Power of Illness, calls the illness’s central theme.
The first question to ask is:
1. What is my vocabulary about the disease process? and
What is my vocabulary about life in general?
There is usually a relationship between our language and the disease process. For example: Does life make us get “choked up”, unable to “stomach things”, feel “torn apart”? Are we “sick and tired”, “heart broken”, “itching to get out” of something? Do we feel like a “war is raging” in our bodies? Are our diseases (or lives) “taking our breath away”?
Our vocabulary will point out the places in our body that are most susceptible to the disease process, the places where we will tend to lose energy. Our vocabulary will also call our attention to unexpressed emotions -- like aggression and anger, fear, grief -- and the accompanying belief systems that are playing a foundational role in supporting our illness. A good book to help see the connections between our vocabulary and our disease is Barbara Levine’s Your Body Believes Every Word You Say. As Candace Pert, one of the physicists who researched and brought to public attention the realm of pschoneuroimmunology, said: “Our immune systems are constantly eavesdropping on our thoughts.” Even if we are not voicing the fact that, for example, there is something in our lives that is “hard to swallow”, our immune systems are receiving our thoughts, and hence chemical as well as energetic messages, on the subject.
A second question is:
2. What changes in behavior does this disease force upon me?
i.e. What does this disease prevent me from doing? and
What does this disease force me to do?
Illness has consequences. Because symptoms are merely problems in our lives expressed in our bodies, looking at the changes in behavior forced upon us by the disease can help us to see just what in our lives is unsatisfactory that we have not been paying attention to. Does a headache make the sufferer be quiet and lie down? Does it force the person to pay more attention to a healthy breathing pattern rather than the chatter of the mind? Is this quiet time with an emphasis on body rather than mind usually missing from the headache sufferer’s life? A diagnosis of diabetes forces the patient to change his/her diet with regard to sugar, and also forces a focus on caring for the self. It is not surprising then, to learn that diabetes is linked to issues regarding assimilating life’s sweetness, issues which stem from negative beliefs about responsibility for caretaking the self and/or others. Many times we try to maintain the status quo when disease comes into our lives. What might be more helpful, (although more difficult) would be to let the symptoms upset us, and use those symptoms metaphorically to guide us deeper into ourselves.
The third question on this level is:
3. How does the healthy vs. distorted function of the tissue/organ/system involved symbolically apply to my life?
For example, if disease manifests in the digestive system, look at the healthy function of the digestive system first: its job is to take in food, figure out what is good for the body and what is not, and then separate the good from the not-good, absorb the good and excrete the bad. What function is a problem in your life? Can you take in, receive? Can you figure out what events, people, circumstances are good for you and which are bad for you ? Are you able to absorb the good things, people, events in your life? Do you also absorb (put up with, take on, assimilate) things in life that are not good for you? Or can you say no to what is not beneficial for you? Can you let go of (excrete) what is not healthy? Our entire anatomy and physiology can be reevaluated with this symbolic bent.
The Irrational Level
Once we have set up basic guidelines by moving through the first two levels, we are ready for the experience of the third level. The third level of interpretation is called the irrational or non-logical level, and it is here that we need to let go of the linear mind in order to go deeper into the body. Doing this allows us to move into our shadow (the part of us that is not brought to light, the part of us that we do not want to look at), so that it transforms into consciousness, the maturing of our souls. Once we leave the linear mind (hence, the “irrational” or “non-logical” terminology), we go continually from body to soul with leaps of insight. In order to do this, we need to be acquainted with several powerful techniques.
Leaving the linear mind means entering an altered state, anything from quiet peaceful reverie to deeper, more potent states of consciousness. What is needed in any case is to enter a meditative state which requires an ability to focus our awareness, an ability to concentrate. This is learned by practice.
People continually tell me: “You know, I just can’t meditate.” When I ask them how often they’ve tried, the answer usually is, “Oh, once or twice.” Did we learn how to ride a two-wheel bicycle by practicing once or twice? Did we learn our arithmetic tables by glancing at them once? Most people are not born knowing how to meditate, and although it will come easier for some than others, everyone benefits by deepening their experience of a quiet, non-linear state. A simple type of meditation focuses awareness on the breath. Pay attention to your breath and nothing else. Bring your attention back to the breath when your mind wanders. To heighten your powers of concentration, each morning for five minutes quietly look at Tarot Key #1, The Magician, which contains archetypal symbolism which will help your unconscious move toward concentration and attention.
Once in a meditative state, we need to be able to be present with the part of our body that is manifesting the disease process. This means a steady focusing of our awareness on that part of the body. We allow ourselves to be with our pain, rather than to resist it, ignore it, or simply “live with it.” This simple technique alone can have profound results. By paying attention to that which we usually don’t pay attention to, and by accepting our body exactly the way it is, we begin to uncover insights about our pain, insights which escaped us when we were not paying attention. We are not trying to fix anything, or figure out why something is happening; we just allow ourselves to sit down with our discomfort, with our hurting body, and keep it company. Being present with our disease feels kind of like keeping company with a good friend. Our disease is crying out: Pay attention to me! It is clearly in our best interest to do just that.
At this point, the quality of curiosity comes in very handy. If we are able to be present with our pain, it means that we have enough power of concentration to leave our fear about our pain behind. Leaving our fear behind may be a tall order. If this is so, then an intervention like EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) is an excellent way to dissolve the fears. When fear is out of the way (even if it’s just for the duration of the meditative state), curiosity can take its place. We can begin to be curious about the disease process in our bodies, and even though we may experience emotional releases, they will not overwhelm us. We can “sit down to dinner” with the disease and its physical ramifications and explore exactly what is happening. Now, from the altered state, these questions can be asked.
• When was the first time I felt this discomfort?
• Does this pain/disease remind me of anything from my past?
• How does this disease serve me? How does it protect me from something I’m afraid to look at?
• Exactly what is it that I am afraid to look at?
• What is my shadow that I really don’t want to deal with?
I cannot stress enough that the answers to these questions given from the space of the linear mind are not adequate to transform the disease process in the body. There must be that quantum leap into the “not-knowingness” and non-attachment of the meditative state, so that the answers will not be interpreted, edited and judged by the mind, but will come from our deeper wisdom. Once we acknowledge our shadow which is connected with the disease symptoms, we are ready for the hero’s journey.
The Hero’s Journey into the Shadow
The hero’s journey can take place at many levels. At one extreme it is called “the dark night of the soul” and can last for many months, even years. The hero’s journey always takes us into our shadow and out the other side, and this necessitates, in some form, facing our dragons, walking through the fire -- whatever metaphor we want to use.
At a very early age we begin to perceive ourselves as “not good” in some way, and so we create masks, or persona, to present to the external world, so that the world will not see how we perceive we are inadequate. These masks eventually become so ingrained, we begin to think of them as who we are, and we begin to define ourselves with our masks. Behind every mask sits some shadow, and we create many defenses to keep our shadow from being seen, by others or by us. To face our shadow, to move into it, and to be present with it takes courage and determination, compassion for ourselves and an ability to forgive ourselves for not being perfect. But as we move through our shadow, an alchemical process happens, as we realize that our initial perception of inadequacy was, after all, an illusion. We forgive ourselves for thinking we were not perfect just the way we were. We forgive ourselves for our human foibles, and we lasso our will into supporting our essence, rather than our masks. We see the hidden potential of our beings that never was realized because it was covered up by so much fear. This is the gold, the treasure, the gift, that always lies on the other side of any crisis.